Mr. Foote’s Other Leg
7 December 2015 (Mon), West End
Simon Russell Beale in peak form. This is based on an iconoclastic but highly popular 18th-century actor who was friends with Garrick, Prince George (later King George III, still very much sane at this time) and Benjamin Franklin, among others. Foote’s caustic sense of humor proves popular among the public but not with the authorities, who find it hard to stop him: he beats censorship laws by holding parties where patrons pay for the tea while seeing the shows for free. A rash bet leads to a horse accident that costs him his leg, but he manages to squeeze a royal commission out of the guilty prince who (in the play) had set the bet up. Despising sympathy, Foote doesn’t skip a beat, maintaining his popularity in roles that he creates for one-legged characters, making revivals unlikely. Still, he becomes more acrimonious and impulsive, and a scandalous parody of a powerful woman spurs a lawsuit accusing him, not unjustly, of sodomy, a serious charge. He’s ready to fight it, but the king can no longer protect him as the scandal is diverting the media from the war with America. He advises Foote to leave the country. Giving in to reality, Foote faces his audience one last time.
The show has witty dialogue, raucous humor (“The opposite of comedy is Germany”), great characters. The opening scene, where actors after his death are searching the lab for his leg, sets the tone, though it curiously never gets a closing scene. Impenetrable accents in the subsequent elocution scene, when Foote first appears, had me worried, but that soon smoothed out. Much hilarity follows, notably a riotous fight scene between two Othellos and a black worker that ups the Lend Me A Tenor chaos by one. A comic amputation scene (!) closes out Act I, gruesome and funny all at once. My only scruple was the gratuitous late gay scene, which I thought would have been better implied than shown.
Beale camped it up grandly and looked like he was having a great time, which was contagious. His shift into the bitter late years was splendidly played. He had solid support from those playing Garrick and the Irish actress. Other standouts were the female theater manager and Prince/King George (who also happened to be the show’s writer). Fun show. Nice trivia: the actual Foote actually performed at this theater years ago. How cool is that?